Asha and her son Ravi Jain’s comic timing is spot on

By Anu Jose

It is not often a mother and son perform on stage together, but that is exactly what ”˜A Brimful of Asha’ is. As part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, actor, director and writer, Ravi Jain performs with his mother Asha where they tell their family story. On one side we have the fed up son, sick of his parents’ attempts to marry him off and unable to reconcile his marital status with his mother’s happiness. On the other side is a mother’s pain at her sons chosen profession in the arts and an unwillingness to settle down.

The story is told with humour and an abundance of love starting with the song of the same name by Cornershop. The stage is just a dining room table and Ravi and Asha are inviting the audience into their home for a conversation. The welcoming, casual and inviting tone is set with Ravi and Asha greeting the audience individually as we line up for a delicious samosa. Asha tells us upfront she is not an actor and to forgive her if she draws a blank, which she doesn’t. Her comic timing is spot on as she has the audience in stitches with her witty, dead pan one liners. Above all, she is honest and authentic. This is an Indian mother being herself and anyone of Indian heritage would see their own mother in Asha, telling us parents know best, are wiser and that she knows that marriage will make her son happy (and her) and that it is well within her power to choose his wife. They go on to tell us the events that took place in 2007 when Ravi went to India to run workshops and travel but was ambushed over there by his parents to meet girls!

Ravi gives the audience an education on the arranged marriage process, the importance of knowing the extended family with marriage being between families and not just the couple, dowry, the persistence of parents and a sample bio data (Aishwarya Rai’s). The age of 27 is the expiration date, and marriage has to have happened prior to this or it’s all doom and gloom. The largely non ”“ Indian crowd understood the humour and cultural nuances, evident by the eruptions of laughter. Asha talks of Indian culture, astrology, parental responsibilities, and her own marriage which occurred in 28 days from meeting Ravi’s father, getting engaged then married and migrating to Toronto not knowing a soul.  How any dreams she had ended when her parents told her she had to get married. You couldn’t say ”˜none of your business’ she says like Ravi had tried with her. You just listened to your parents because they knew best. She also spoke of the pain of going to India and being constantly asked why Ravi isn’t married, saying the blame is on the mother if the son isn’t married, that the mother has no control over the situation. They both talk of growing up in the Canadian Indian community, dinners at family friends’ houses every weekend, watching Hindi movies, listening to songs. Not dissimilar to an Indian immigrant childhood in Australia.

The chemistry between mother and son is perfect, with Asha interrupting Ravi telling us she is right, reprimanding him when he sits on the table and they work off each other in a very natural way. They make fun of each other and themselves. Asha talks about the culture clash, Indian vs Canadian which is really any western country. Asha is holding onto what she can of Indian culture and wants Ravi to marry a girl from India. Ravi humorously re-tells of ”˜introductions’ and set ups planned to precision behind his back plus the fights and the tears shed by his mother, including how bad he felt. He even brings onto stage two big binders full of matrimonial responses to the ad his parents placed in a newspaper in India. To which his mother replies ”˜Imagine how many you would have got if you were a Doctor’.

The dialogue is very easy and believable and doesn’t feel scripted. They are playing themselves and while they have performed this a number of times, you feel they have only had the conversation once, and with you. You see a smile from Asha every time the audience reacts to what she has said. Ravi is great on stage, he is eloquent, funny and tells a good story but it is his mother that steals the show. Asha Jain is brilliant, without knowing how good she really is. Their warmth radiates throughout the hour and a half performance and continues as they ask the audience to come up for a chat after. There is no rushing off stage, they graciously talk to everyone who wants to have a word with them. I tell Ravi and Aunty briefly about how my husband (who was there with me) and I were set up in India, very similar to the story he was re-counting with aunties, uncles and grandparents in a living room to which he laughed saying it obviously does work! I only wish they were taking the show to Sydney so I could send my own mother along with my unmarried brother. I’m sure Asha Jain and my mother would get on famously as would Ravi and my brother!

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